There are two things that make this letter valuable in a special way for you as a young believer. First, all attention is drawn towards the glory of Christ’s Person. This glory is expressed in various ways in different relationships. You will see Him as the Son of the Father’s love in whom dwells the fullness of Godhead (Col 1:13,1913For He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son,19For it was the [Father’s] good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him,); you will see Him as the Creator and Sustainer of all things (Col 1:16-1716For by Him all things were created, [both] in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him.17He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.); and you will see Him as the Savior and Head of His body, the church (Col 1:14,1814in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.18He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything.).
Secondly the way the mystery (Col 1:2727to whom God willed to make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.) is being unfolded, namely as a source of encouragement (Col 2:22that their hearts may be encouraged, having been knit together in love, and [attaining] to all the wealth that comes from the full assurance of understanding, [resulting] in a true knowledge of God’s mystery, [that is,] Christ [Himself],). The mystery implies that the church is made one with Christ. The more you discover and appreciate it, the more it will support your faith and give you encouragement in an environment that knows nothing of this and even rejects it.
The intent of this letter is that you receive teachings from the things mentioned in it and begin to reflect on them. The result, no doubt, is that your heart and your eyes will be filled with the glory of the Lord Jesus. I can assure you that eventually your soul will be overflowing with gratitude, joy and confidence.
The letter to the Colossians is the third letter Paul wrote from his imprisonment in Rome (after the letter to the Ephesians and the letter to the Philippians). This is not a letter from a study scholar. Paul had experienced comfort and joy in his soul as he reflected on the glory of the Lord and wrote it down. You can also experience the same when you read this letter.
All of Paul’s letters were written on the occasion of something he had noticed or heard. The reason for the letter to the Colossians was that Paul had heard of errors that had gained access to Colossae. Epaphras must have conveyed these to him. It is not clear what exactly the errors were.
However there are some hints in the letter, namely, in chapter 2. There for instance you read about philosophy (Col 2:88See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ.), of Jewish rituals (Col 2:16-1716Therefore no one is to act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day—17things which are a [mere] shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ.), and worship of angels (Col 2:1818Let no one keep defrauding you of your prize by delighting in self-abasement and the worship of the angels, taking his stand on [visions] he has seen, inflated without cause by his fleshly mind,). They are elements both from paganism and from Judaism. There was only one way that the evil that has been done by these mistakes could be undone and that is by visualizing the entire glory of Christ. Whoever gets to know this glory will never need to have anything to do with errors.
As mentioned earlier Paul must have heard of all the developments in the church at Colossae through Epaphras. This faithful servant stood in close relationship with the church at Colossae. From chapter 1 one can understand that the church at Colossae emerged as a result of the work done by Epaphras (Col 1:77just as you learned [it] from Epaphras, our beloved fellow bond-servant, who is a faithful servant of Christ on our behalf,). He had preached the gospel to the Colossians (Col 4:1212Epaphras, who is one of your number, a bondslave of Jesus Christ, sends you his greetings, always laboring earnestly for you in his prayers, that you maystandperfect andfully assured in all the will of God.). It was, however, not ‘his’ church, but he certainly felt a great responsibility for them. When errors appeared he spoke to Paul about them, and Paul in turn took paper and ink in his hand, and wrote to the believers in Colossae regarding the dangers of the errors and taught them how to arm themselves against such dangers.
Paul himself had never been in Colossae (Col 2:11For I want you to know how great a struggle I have on your behalf and for those who are at Laodicea, and for all those who have not personally seen my face,). However, he didn’t think: ‘It is the church of Epaphras; let him handle the matter.’ Paul was conscious that he was the servant of the entire church. He was also aware that it was not his church but the church of Christ. It is this awareness that gave him an ardent love for the church. When the enemy attacked the church by trying to introduce heresies, he went into action. False teachings are the masterly means to destroy the church – even to the extent of assaulting Christ, for in fact Christ and the church are one.
Paul has learned that at the moment of his conversion. He was busy persecuting the church at that moment. The Lord Jesus, however, spoke from heaven, to halt this persecutor of His church, saying: “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” (Acts 9:44and he fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?”). The persecution of the church on earth was equivalent to the persecution of the Lord Jesus in heaven. Here you learn that the church on earth and the Lord Jesus in heaven are one. The church is one body with Him as the Head. This is called the mystery in this letter. A mystery is something which was not made known in the Old Testament, but now it is revealed to the church.
There is one more letter in which you read about this mystery – that is the letter to the Ephesians. However, the manner in which Paul speaks about this mystery in the letter to the Colossians is different from the way he does in the letter to the Ephesians. It will help you to understand the letter to the Colossians better when I mention a few differences. One important difference is that the letter to the Colossians shows that Christ is one with the church on earth while in the letter to the Ephesians the church is presented as one with Christ in heaven.
Another difference is that in the letter to the Colossians, the Christian is seen as risen with Christ, but not made to sit in the heavenly places as in the letter to the Ephesians. In fact he says to the Colossians that there is a hope laid up for them in heaven (Col 1:55because of the hope laid up for you in heaven, of which you previously heard in the word of truth, the gospel). That means namely that they are not seen in heaven as in the letter to the Ephesians, but in their life on earth. You can also conclude that from the exhortation of Paul that the Christian should direct his thoughts and feelings on the things which are above and not on the things that are on earth (Col 3:1-21Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.2Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth.).
Another difference is that the letter to the Colossians reveals the fullness that is in Christ (Col 1:1919For it was the [Father’s] good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him,; 2:99For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form,), and our perfection in Him (Col 2:1010and in Him you have been made complete, and He is the head over all rule and authority,), while in the letter to the Ephesians the privileges of the body are presented.
Lastly I would like to point out the fact that in the letter to the Colossians the emphasis is on Christ as our life. The emphasis on the other hand in the letter to the Ephesians is more on the Spirit, Who is mentioned only once in the letter to the Colossians (Col 1:88and he also informed us of your love in the Spirit.).
When you compare these letters with one another in this way you will be more and more aware of the unique characteristics of each letter. In my introduction to the commentary on the letter to the Ephesians I compared some letters together, drawing a parallel to the journey of Israel from Egypt, through the wilderness, to the promised land. You can read about it there. I did not mention the letter to the Colossians in that comparison. You can classify this letter between the letter to the Romans and the letter to the Ephesians.
The letter to the Romans is about the deliverance from the bondage of sin (the picture of Egypt) through the work of Christ. The letter to the Ephesians is about entering the blessings in the heavenly places in Christ (the picture of the blessings of the Canaan land). The letter to the Colossians sees Christians as freed from the bondage of sin and connected to Christ. They do not enjoy the blessings of the heavenly places yet, because they are still on the earth.
In this letter, the circumcision of Christ (Col 2:1111and in Him you were also circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, in the removal of the body of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ;) is mentioned. This reminds us of the circumcision of the people of Israel after they crossed over Jordan (Jos 5:2-92At that time the LORD said to Joshua, “Make for yourself flint knives and circumcise again the sons of Israel the second time.”3So Joshua made himself flint knives and circumcised the sons of Israel at Gibeath-haaraloth.4This is the reason why Joshua circumcised them: all the people who came out of Egypt who were males, all the men of war, died in the wilderness along the way after they came out of Egypt.5For all the people who came out were circumcised, but all the people who were born in the wilderness along the way as they came out of Egypt had not been circumcised.6For the sons of Israel walked forty years in the wilderness, until all the nation, [that is], the men of war who came out of Egypt, perished because they did not listen to the voice of the LORD, to whom the LORD had sworn that He would not let them see the land which the LORD had sworn to their fathers to give us, a land flowing with milk and honey.7Their children whom He raised up in their place, Joshua circumcised; for they were uncircumcised, because they had not circumcised them along the way.8Now when they had finished circumcising all the nation, they remained in their places in the camp until they were healed.9Then the LORD said to Joshua, “Today I have rolled away the reproach of Egypt from you.” So the name of that place is called Gilgal to this day.). The Israelites were indeed in the land, but they had not fought yet. They were yet to conquer the land.
The circumcision of Christ speaks of the judgment Christ suffered for you on the cross. Since you believe that, now you are free to enjoy His glory which is described in an excellent manner in this letter. I hope and pray that you will experience this to the fullest.
Now read this letter again.
Reflection: Which portion, or which passage, gives you the content of the letter in the best way?